“He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” Job 8:21
The small, country Methodist church sat on the banks of a clear mountain river. The parking lot was full and great laughter could be heard coming from the attached multi-purpose gathering hall. An amazing lunch, all dishes prepared by the ladies of the church, had just been consumed by the 70 attendees and, now, the stories had begun. This was not your normal church social… It was the final celebration of the life of a great man who had been a member of this church for over 60 years. He was the patriarch of the family represented by the people present. An hour before, we laid his earthly body in his final resting place beside his wife of 63 years in the local cemetery. He had seen so much and touched so many during his 92 years; he loved to laugh and make others laugh, and that had not changed, even as he faded away from us in his last few months.
His fall in the bathroom had changed the status quo. My father’s health had been gradually deteriorating over the last couple years. He had insisted on staying in his house and, being quite independent, would not allow anyone to stay with him. One of my sisters and her husband had moved to the same town providing near-constant observation and ‘home health care’–augmented often by me and our other two siblings. We had convinced Dad to accept Hospice nurses and aide workers who now came by several times a week…a Godsend for us and him. But now 24/7 care was necessary. My brother, two sisters, and I worked our schedules to share our time with Dad. Physically, it was a demanding assignment, but because he was such a great and appreciative patient, we valued our time with him. He, and we, loved the Hospice workers and looked forward to their visits.
Following the wedding of my youngest daughter, my wife and I traveled to Dad’s for 10 days–my brother and his wife had moved in full time and needed to take a few days at their home. Dad was now bedridden and required assistance in all aspects of his life except his humor. He still loved to pull your chain. On one afternoon, my lovely wife walked up to his bed. As Dad opened his bright blue eyes, Suzanne said, “How are you doing, Pop?” He looked intently at her and said, “Who are you?” Suzanne was taken aback and went silent. Dad looked over at me, winked, and then smiled back at Suzanne. He and I laughed heartily as Suzanne playfully scolded him for such an ornery trick. And he didn’t stop with family — the hospice folks were his targets, as well.
Eventually our 10 days with Dad were coming to an end. It was Friday, and I had to leave Saturday for work. Dad was in good spirits and had asked several times when his favorite Hospice nurse would be there. She usually came toward the end of the day and today was no exception, as she walked through the door at 5:00pm.
“John, how are you doing today?” she bellowed.
“I hurt all over, and I can’t find a soul to help me,” my Dad deadpanned.
“Well, John, your biggest pain has just arrived, and I can’t wait to start working on you!”
“You have finally said something that I can agree with!” Dad said as the nurse leans down and kissed his forehead.
The next hour saw the nurse and Dad interacting in every way…Dad the patient being evaluated expertly by a compassionate professional. There were grunts and groans and lots of laughter. For the last 15 minutes of the visit, the nurse sat on the edge of his bed, held his hand and they talked. As she left, I walked her to the door and told her how much Dad loved her and how he had anxiously anticipated her visit that day. She looked at me and said, “Mike, I put your father as my last patient of the day each time I visit for one important reason. As a hospice nurse, I deal with many tough patients, tough family situations, and tough caregivers. When I come here, I see a loving family. And I deal with a man that cracks me up and thanks me every time I do anything…whether I cause pain or relieve pain. At the end of the visit, I know I will walk out the door with a smile on my face. Let me tell you, when you do my job and at the end of the day you have a smile on your face, it’s a God thing. Your dad is such a blessing in my life, and I love being with him.” The next day I left my father with a smile on my face as he ragged me one last time…and it would be the last time I would hear his voice.
Three weeks later, my phone rang and my brother says, “Mike, come home. Hospice has said that Dad has entered the dying process, and we don’t know how long it will be.” 12 hours later, the length required of driving from my house to his, I walk into Dad’s room. He is stable but unresponsive. 36 hours later, I am beside his bed when he takes his final breath. My siblings and I join hands and thank God for accepting our beloved father and His beloved servant into His eternal care. The first phone call I make is to his Hospice nurse…
The laughter subsides from the little white church. The stories of my father’s life through the eyes of his children and grandchildren have touched the hearts of all who are present. There are tears, but not of the sadness and loss we had felt earlier that day. Those tears will return periodically, no doubt. But for now, Christ has blessed us with the gift of warm memories, the gift of appreciative hearts for one so dear, and the gift of a smile at the end of a very tough day….exactly what my father so dearly loved.